Iron is a mineral that plays a crucial role in our health and wellbeing. It is required to produce haemoglobin, an important protein that helps to carry oxygen to every cell in the body. Of all the nutritional deficiencies in the world, iron deficiency is considered to be the most common.
According to the National Family Health Survey, more than 50% of the women in India are anaemic (1). Iron deficiency can turn into a grim condition if not tended to.
The easiest way to know if you have an iron deficiency is by making a quick visit to the diagnostics lab for a blood test. But otherwise, how can one tell if their body is deficient in iron?
Here’s a list of signs that you should look out for:
Fatigue is ranked first when it comes to the most common symptom of iron deficiency. The red blood cells transport oxygen to our organs, muscles, and tissues. A lack of these cells is characterised by extreme tiredness and weakness, thus resulting in fatigue.
2. Pale Skin
Did you know that the rosy tint on your skin is because of iron? It’s the presence of haemoglobin in our red blood cells that contributes to the colour of our skin. Lack of iron makes these blood cells smaller and paler in the centre, making our skin paler too. Another easier way to identify this symptom is to check the area inside your bottom eyelid; if it is lighter, then you know you need to up your iron intake.
3. Chest Pain Or Difficulty In Breathing
If you face any unusual shortness of breath or pain in your chest during any physical exertion, it spells iron deficiency. A low haemoglobin count results in limited oxygen distribution in the body. Because of this, our body tries to compensate by acquiring extra oxygen for the body to function properly. In this process, we fall short of breath or develop acute chest pains.
4. A Headache Or Dizziness
Insufficient iron in our body leads to frequent splitting headaches. Insufficient iron leads to insufficient oxygen in our brain, causing the blood vessels in our brain to swell. Thanks to iron deficiency, we may end up feeling like a dizzy dame due to low blood pressure brought about by a lack of oxygen in our body.
5. Heart Palpitations
Heart palpitations can also be one of the symptoms. Lack of oxygen in our body can make it difficult for the heart to function normally. Severe cases can lead to heart failure. Before you panic, a person who is anaemic displays various symptoms that can be detected in time to alter the course of the deficiency; heart palpitations are the last (worst) case scenarios.
6. Damaged Hair Or Skin
The hair and the skin are the secondary organs of our body. What we mean to say is, if there is a limited supply of oxygen in our body, the oxygen is first distributed to the integral organs of our body and then to the parts like hair and skin. This makes our hair and skin very dry and extremely fragile. Insufficiency of a protein called ferritin, responsible for storing and releasing iron in our body, causes hair and skin problems.
7. Swollen Tongue
The tongue is the first thing a doctor examines in a checkup. This is because the tongue is indicative of health problems. If your tongue seems to be swollen, discoloured, or inflamed, it is an indication of an iron deficiency. Finding cracks inside the mouth is also common in such cases.
8. Brittle Fingernails
Brittle fingernails are a symptom that appear in the later stages of anaemia. Iron deficiency can lead to extremely thin nails that become flat, or even concave, in shape. Even those expensive manicures cannot help you in hiding them.
9. Restless Legs
Higher-than-normal levels of iron in the blood can lead to a lower dopamine level, a chemical in our brain that is responsible for the movement of our body. This can set off restless leg syndrome – a condition that causes an uncomfortable twitching or tickling sensation in your lower body, which is only relieved when you move your legs.
No, we are not talking about the bird “Pica” here; we are referring to an eating disorder. Low iron levels can sometimes lead to cravings for non-food substances — like dirt, clay, or chalk — a problem called pica. Succumbing to such cravings will lead to ingestion of harmful toxins in one’s body.
If you’re facing any of the above symptoms, we suggest you visit the nearest doctor. This will help you understand the root cause of your deficiency. Only a doctor can guide you about how to increase the iron levels in your body.